The Hope to Come
Do you feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket? Do you shake your head at the actions of generations younger than you? Are today’s music or television shows trash compared to the fantastic art you grew up experiencing? Ahh… “the good ol’ days,” how we miss ‘em. Any chance you’re suffering a bout of nostalgia?
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Studies have shown that remembering a specific pleasant memory can affect your brain chemistry. Truly, dopamine and serotonin can be released just by “thinking.” Nostalgia, isn’t the memory itself, though, it’s the emotional state caused by the memory. That’s why it’s so powerful; it’s an emotion that runs deep.
If I happen to look at a clock at exactly 4:30 p.m., I get a fleeting feeling of panic, like I’m missing something great and important, and there’s somewhere I need to be. Want to know why? Because from ages 8-13 (yes, 13) 4:30 p.m. meant one thing – Power Rangers. Seriously, weekdays consisted of an after-school snack, 30 minutes of homework and a very special guitar riff that signaled the arrival of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I have not watched an episode in 20 years, but a couple weeks ago I was at a movie and a preview for a big screen re-boot came on and without any thought to how silly I looked, I sat up in my seat, gasped in delight and grabbed my husband’s arm. He got a good laugh out of it. Now, do you think I would seriously enjoy a trip to the theater to see Power Rangers on the big screen? Probably not. But that is the power of nostalgia.
I read an article recently that suggested that in times of extreme stress, it’s helpful to listen to music that was popular the year you graduated from high school, because the “Nostalgia Effect” is calming.
According to Alan R. Hirsch in his report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,”* nostalgia is a yearning for an idealized past – “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory – not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions are filtered out.”
At this point, you’re probably wondering why in the heck Kelly is talking about this stuff. Here’s why: nostalgia can be a tripping point in the church.
We’re in a very special place right now, celebrating 150 years of ministry. This is a fantastic achievement for our congregation. But there’s one thing we need to remember as we recall our past: we are looking at NorthPark Presbyterian Church’s greatest hits – the best and most memorable moments throughout our history. If we fail to recognize that, then we end up holding the church (both our particular congregation and the church universal) to an unachievable standard.
Want me to demonstrate?
Think of 5 songs on the radio right now. Now think of 5 songs from the 80s. I’m guessing the ones from the 80s are classics. They’re fantastic pieces of music that were huge hits and might even get radio play today. The 5 current songs probably won’t compare, but that’s because we’re comparing the best of the best to the mere current offerings of today.
It’s similarly easy to panic about the future. In the same way we tend to overly romanticize the past and view it with rose colored glasses, it’s also a little too easy to see the future through dark glasses and the lens of fear and uncertainty. We are worrisome creatures. “The PCUSA is failing! This generation doesn’t care about church! The young people don’t tithe!”
But seriously, people were complaining about the same things 20 years ago. Even the wandering Israelites in the desert began to romanticize their time spent in Egypt. “Then they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12)
So my charge to you, dear NorthPark, is to enjoy the nostalgia of our 150 years. Celebrate our greatest achievements. Smile, laugh, and live into the stories of our past. But do not let it cloud the present, nor our future, as we seek ways to serve Christ. Our tagline for the year is “Celebrating History, Looking Forward.” May our memories spur us to action for the future and hope for the generations to come.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.